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Reposting Thoughts on Sacrifice

I’ve been thinking a lot about sacrifice lately. Yule is approaching and that is a time where I often give appropriate sacrifices to Odin and it’s time to start thinking about what the winter will entail, and to start making the necessary preparations should animal sacrifice be part of that.

I take the necessity and goodness of sacrifice for granted but obviously not everyone does. I recently had an issue with a neighbor over my practice. She didn’t see anything (I’m not rude to my neighbors and I have a secluded area and shed in which I do this type of work), but simply knowing that this was part of my practice bothered her extensively, to the point of her lightly interfering and interrupting a non-sacrificial religious rite. It’s easy when surrounded only by people who share one’s worldview, to forget how disconnected our society is from its food cycles, from offertory traditions, from life and death, and from the ways of our ancestors. Think about, people don’t die in the home anymore. They get shipped off to hospitals and hospice to make that passage which denies us contact with them in their last days, and with the process surrounding their dying, something, I might add, that I believe ratchets up the grief afterwards. Unlike with our ancestors, we buy our food neatly pasteurized, sanitized, sterilized, geneticized (yes, i’m making up a word? ) and sealed. There are kids today that don’t know hamburgers come from cows. Disconnection seems at times too mild a word.

Even for those of us engaging in these practices there can be one hell of a learning curve, but so much good can come of facing that head on because sacrifice is essential to polytheistic religions.  To paraphrase Ken Dowden, noted scholar of Roman religion “without sacrifice there is no piety.” (1) Period. End of story and this is not rocket science. Except in fact, for those of us raised in our modern, spiritually oblivious culture, apparently it is. This is, sadly, understandable. How many of us after all have grown up slaughtering our own food? That separation from the origins of what nourishes us creates, I believe, an inability to position the act of slaughtering an animal in one’s world either practically or sacrally. There is a level of disconnect present with which our ancestors never had to deal. Take for example, that neighbor who recently wanted to know why I had to be so “mean” to the chickens I was about to ritually offer, why couldn’t I get my meat at the grocery store?” –(factory farming obviously not a moral issue for the woman). Why indeed and if you could see me now, you’d see the exasperated rolling of my eyes. It can be a really shocking and frightening thing though, for those who have never been exposed to it sacrally, except maybe in media stupidity and sensationalism.

I get really passionate about this subject too. I’m passionate about a lot of things, but fiercely so where sacrifice is concerned, partly because I believe it’s incredibly dangerous and unhelpful to carry unexamined modern attitudes into our practice, and partly because sacrifice is so, so important. I’m really glad that it’s come up recently in discussion again, because it is a much needed impetus for me to write more about this. We talk much about restoring our ancestral traditions but this particular tradition can make some of us cringe: without butchery, i.e. the slaughter of animals, there is no piety. There is no religion. There is no being in right relationship with one’s Gods. Pretty much, to one degree or another, across the board this was the accepted view of our ancestors, and of religious traditions that sustained their people for generations upon generations. Even Judaism, Islam, and some forms of Christianity allow for it in many cases. Our railing against the necessity of sacrifice is just one more way that we assume that we know better than our ancestors. It’s one more way that we assume the death of our traditions was some sort of moral ‘progress.’ It’s what my colleague Raven Kaldera, in our book “Northern Tradition for the Solitary Practitioner,” called “Urdummheit,” the idea that our ancestors were stupid.

I have found over the past couple of years, that in some sections of modern polytheism, even the idea of giving appropriate offerings is problematic. After all, it does highlight that we and our feelings are not the central point of the religious equation, doesn’t it? When Sannion and I were on the air, discussing this (among other things) on our show Wyrd Ways Radio, we had an unexpected call in by a listener who told a fascinating story about Alexander the Great, which can be found here. If I could see our contemporary polytheisms nurture any attitude in its followers, it would be this: we cannot give too much to our Gods. But in a culture, permeated with Protestant values, the values that say “don’t waste that” (or if one is Heathen “Don’t give too much!!!” – as if one *could*) when one is about to lay out an offering of food or drink, as if giving tangibly to one’s Gods and ancestors is a waste, it’s no wonder that we think ourselves kinder and gentler and –let’s be honest–above offering an animal. We as a culture think ourselves better than our pious ancestors.(2) It’s an arrogance unthinkable to the ancient mind.

Sacrifice is one of the holiest of offerings. It is the most solemn and sacred of all rituals. It renews, restores, nourishes in a way that no other offering can. Not every Deity requires this granted, but many, many do. The role of the sacrificial priest, one that I have fulfilled since 1995, is an awesome responsibility. One must learn the mechanics of slaughter adeptly, so that the animal in no ways suffers. One must develop (or have an assistant with this skill) the ability to communicate with and soothe the animal. It is important that the animal suffer neither pain nor terror. They are fulfilling a tremendously sacred role, the apex of what their own wyrd may be, and participating in this communicatory cycle in a way denied us as people. It is an act worthy of recognition, respect, and care. This type of priest must learn all the necessary prayers and purificatory rites required before, during, and after both for oneself and for the animal. It is necessary to develop a very strong connection with one’s ancestors and one’s lineage because the power released during a sacrifice is enormous and the broken threads of our traditions, imperfectly restored (if at all) may not be able to sustain the force of that which once would have nourished a living community. Not everyone is meant to be a sacrificial priest. It’s a specialist position. Even though, for instance, I’ve done this work for years, I still divine before each and every ritual involving sacrifice to make certain that I am cleared to serve in this capacity. Our ancestors had the option in many cases of going to a temple, purchasing an animal, and having the sacrifice done for them. One should not attempt a sacrifice without proper training and, for the first few rituals, oversight. There’s no room for error here. There’s no room either from a religious perspective or a compassionate one for getting it wrong.

I will always divine before planning a sacrifice, even if I am sure one is desired. Maybe it isn’t. Maybe I’m wrong. I let the Gods and ancestors speak for themselves. I will divine and if there is any further question after that, I will see another diviner for absolute impartiality. I will also divine right before the sacrifice is to be performed, and immediately after to make sure that it was accepted. Well before a rite of this sort is done, I will seek the Gods’ counsel on how it should be disposed of: is it meant to be cooked up to feed and nourish a community too? Is it meant to be given in total immolation to the Gods? Is it meant to be buried or disposed of in a particular place? What do the Gods wish? This is one of the purposes of divination, to give the Gods a chance to convey Their wishes. Even if I am certain that I have heard and understood a Deity directly, I will still confirm with divination. I do this not to question the Deity, but in deference to my flawed human understanding. I do not want *my* errata of comprehension or translation to mar the process.

So I will share how I consecrated my statue of Dionysos several years ago. I first did divination to determine that such sacrifice was appropriate and then asked if He would accept two roosters. (With a shoulder and back injury, I no longer offer four-legged animals without a strong assistant present). The divination was very positive, I also asked if Hermes would require an offering and again, it was positive. After setting the date, acquiring the animals, cleansing and going through my ritual process, I first made offering to Hermes, one of the quickest, cleanest, and most beautiful of sacrifices I have ever done. The bird was field-dressed and cooked up with herbs, lemons (for some reason, it keeps coming up at every Hermes offering that He likes lemons!), and lots and lots of butter and offered to Him as a feast. The blood was used to consecrate His image, and the head and heart put at the base of His herm. Then the Dionysos offering was made and His statue likewise washed in the blood of the two birds. They were then disposed of as divination indicated (and this was long enough ago, that I don’t recall what we did with them). Divination afterwards showed both offerings to have been happily accepted. I made sure to do all requisite cleansing after to remove miasma (even though it is a sacred thing, the killing of an animal, like marriage, carries miasma) and so it was done. Not too long after, I wrote the following:

Sacrifice is important. It’s one of the holiest and most sacred of our rituals. When we engage in sacrifice for our Gods, we are entering into the flow of a very ancient, very, very profound contract We are entering into something tremendously powerful, something that reaches to the very core of our traditions. This is what brings renewal. This is what brings grace and blessing to the community. This is one of the things that nourishes our Gods and in turn nourishes us. It completes a sacred cycle and there is very little if anything that may serve as a truly adequate substitute.

For this reason, I give thanks for those clergy, of all our various traditions who have dedicated themselves to the task of learning and restoring these rituals and protocols. I give thanks to the Gods and ancestors for those who teach and those who do, for those who take up the knife so that our Gods may have the offerings best suited to Their glory. I give thanks for our sacrificial priests (and yes, I am one, but I give thanks to those who taught me, to those from whom I continue to learn, and to the Gods for Their continued patience). I give thanks to the farmers who provide the feast for the Powers. I give thanks to the fire that carries the fullness of the sacrifice away via immolation and I give thanks to those who dress and prepare the sacrifices for feasting, when that is appropriate. I give thanks to the knife and the ones who craft it. I give thanks for the animals and I give thanks for the land that catches the blood as it is spilled. These things are sacred. The hands of the sacrificial priest are sacred, and the process and cycle itself. For these things, I am grateful. I know how they nourish wyrd. I know what it means to restore these rites after two thousand years of our ritual places lying fallow.

I stand by that now. If sacrifice bothers you, consider why and understand that your discomfort does not for a moment render this act any less sacred or any less necessary. The modern lens through which we filter our faith is the problem not the corpus of sacred rites given into our care and safe-keeping. Sometimes veneration is messy.

sacrifice_boar_louvre_g112

Notes:

  1. Ken Dowden, Religion and the Romans, Bristol Classics Press, 1992, p. 1.
  2. The impact of the Protestant work ethic on contemporary Polytheisms and the making of offerings is a topic I’m reserving for another post.

More on sacrifice may be found here and here. See also a post I made earlier in the year on modernity and polytheism. 

Defend Tradition

Please Sign this Petition

My fellow readers, please consider signing this petition. It was started by the Lukumi elder who pioneered protecting our right to sacrifice: Oba Pichardo, whose 1993 case against the city of Hialeah won Supreme Court Recognition of religions’ right to ritual sacrifice. 

This right is NOT guaranteed. Even though we have SCOTUS precedent, it can still be chipped away at, just as animal rights groups are continually trying to do. There is a recent case working its way through the VA court system now and if the state wins, it is not unlikely that other states will use this to effectively remove religious exemption to animal slaughter. We often think that we can skate by in this country, that no one will ever interfere with our religious freedoms, and many of us refer when challenged to that 1993 case but *nothing* is set in stone and those that would shatter our religions again know this. 

If you care at all for one of our holiest of rights, if you care at all for the freedom to practice your religion unimpeded (even if your religion does NOT involve sacrifice), please consider signing. 

 

Offerings and Sacrifice Redux

So once again the subject of offerings and sacrifice has come up on a discussion thread; specifically, the comment was made that food offerings shouldn’t be wasted, that if something is given in offering or if a sacrifice is made, unless human beings get to eat it, it’s going to waste.

Part of me really wants to just go “bitch, please, this argument has happened already and it’s not rocket science. Catch up, please.” but since that’s not necessarily conducive to understanding and discussion, allow me to parse this out again.

Making offerings is an essential part of the devotional process and at the apex of all offering rites, ritual sacrifice is the holiest and most profound type of offering that one can give.

To say that offerings are wasted if they’re not then given to people is remarkably self-centered of us. How can they be wasted when they are being given to Gods and spirits? If you actually believe in the Gods, then giving to Them is not wasteful. That’s the catch there. Offerings set on a shrine are not being left out to rot; they’re being given to specific Deities or spirits. Sacrifices made and left at a shrine are not being left to go to waste, they are being given again, to Gods and spirits. That we cannot see or corporeally engage with our Gods does not make Them any less real.

What actually happens to an offering or sacrifice may vary: it depends to what God or spirit it’s being given. Whether or not the sacrifice is later consumed will depend on the Deity, the tradition, and most importantly, the divination done before and after the sacrifice. (1) Likewise, what happens to an offering will depend on the same factors. This is part of an ongoing conversation with our Holy Powers, the Great Ones and the least we can do is not be parsimonious twats about the whole thing. If nothing else, this process reinforces the reality that we are not the biggest, most important Beings in the universe. It teaches humility, reverence, and in the best cases imbues us with an overwhelming sense of awe that we can stand in right relationship with our Gods with all that entails.

Our right to sacrifice is not a given. It is under constant threat, not just from Christian evangelicals and other monotheistic extremists but from secular humanists/non-theists and most of all from animal rights groups that will go to any lengths to see the practice banned. They’ve been successful too, helped by a social justice agenda that values any culture and religion except that which would prioritize the Gods.

This past year has seen sacrifice banned in at least two places (Denmark and Nepal’s Gadhimai festival) and there have been multiple threats to its practice that weren’t so successful (ARM is constantly agitating against the ATR, there was a legal challenge in Brooklyn last October against the Orthodox Jewish community and their new year sacrifice, to name but two). Our legal right to sacrifice to our Gods rests on a 1994 case that went all the way to the Supreme Court: Ernesto Pichardo and the Church of Babaluaye vs. the City of Hialeah. As we’ve seen with another Supreme court victory, Roe v. Wade, even a precedent setting decision by the Supreme Court can be diminished and chipped away at little by little…or even overturned.

I would like to think that if (when) our right to practice our religions unimpeded is ever challenged, that our polytheistic communities would band together and stand together fiercely protecting our ancestral traditions, challenging and fighting any restrictions…even if one’s own cultus does not require sacrifice (after all, we should never compromise in honoring our Gods and if it’s sacrifice today, what practice will be on the chopping block tomorrow?). I would like to think that if our ATR colleagues were to see their right to sacrifice threatened again that we would stand together, unified, to support them as well.

Sadly, I know that isn’t the case. We have too many people who just don’t care and too few people able (willing?) to look ahead. We need to be looking ahead. These are perilous times and whether we like it or not, we are minority religions. I want every Polytheist and Pagan out there to be able to honor their Gods without having to hide their practices, break the law, or feel ashamed. We should be able to celebrate without having to watch for informants, busy-bodies, and bigots. We should not have to curtail our religious practices because our neighbors may not understand, as one recent article suggested. We should, in fact, blatantly and boldly refuse to do so. After all, it should be more important to please the Gods than the asshole down the street.(2)

So I watch and do my best to stay vigilant. I pay attention to articles involving animal rights, to people arrested for animal slaughter (religious or not, it’s easy enough for something to be spun in a way that brings disaster to us), to international efforts overseas to ban slaughter. I write at several venues to try to raise awareness, and I refuse to support organizations (like PETA) that would take my religious rites away. I would like to see us more organized, more able to fight, and fend off attacks on our religions but looking at the community today, we’ve a long way to go.

 

  1. I’m very carefully separating out offerings that do not require animal sacrifice (offering) from those that do (sacrifice).
  2. It helps to research local zoning laws and have the information at your fingertips. I also suggest screening your property. I have a screened enclosure where I will perform sacrifices, and a huge back porch that can be screened if need requires. I do not in any way suggest performing sacrifice where your neighbors can gawk. This is a sacred thing, not some for profane eyes to observe.

More Attacks on Sacrifice

I’ve seen quite a few articles over the last couple of days pointing to attacks on our right to sacrifice. In many cases, these articles aren’t just targeting us (or perhaps aren’t even targeting us at all) but are going after Hindu practitioners or ATR practitioners, as well as Jews and Muslims (1). This is still significant, not only because of any precedent that might be set, but because sooner or later we will be targeted, or a large scale ban on sacrifice will end up including us by default. This happened just this past year with Denmark.

Sacrifice is, to many polytheisms (including my own Heathenry and cultus deorum), the holiest of religious rites. More than anything else it is the ritual that cements and consistently renews our connection to our Gods, our relationship with Them, and the reciprocity that flows from a well-tended relationship. It is that which keeps our communities and our traditions vital, powerful, and alive. It was the first thing Christians targeted when they were coming to power, and it is the thing that is really the litmus test for the health of our communities today. I have seen groups and communities torn apart because half were attuned to the traditions and practices of their ancestral ways and half were children of modernity, sure that they were smarter and more evolved than our ancestors, and sure that they knew best what the Gods might want. This is one of those things wherein there is no compromise possible.

I’ve been a blòt priest since roughly 1996. I began doing sacrifices for my kindred very early on, having received basic training from a local farmer. I also, later, had the privilege of spending several years as part of a Theod. This was exceptionally beneficial to my understanding of the raw holiness of the sacrificial process. More than any other denomination of Heathenry, I think Theodism has done the most to restore the proper rite of blòt. This is what we call a ritual where animal sacrifice takes place. (2) I simply do not think it is possible to practice our polytheisms adequately without rites of sacrifice. This is not, of course, to say that everyone must be actively doing sacrifice. That was never the case. Like many other roles, the role of sacrificial priest is that of a specialist. There is training both in ritual work and in the art of butchery required. There are also mysteries here that both the priest and community must understand. Sacrifice is a ritual steeped in raw, primal βíoς. That has consequences. If not handled properly, that primal power can cause damage. This is why the community is such an important part of the scaffolding for such a rite. I would go so far as to say that without sacrifice, we have restored nothing. It is that which enables our traditions to grow.

So needless to say, it is quite concerning to see attacks by the ignorant and impious on this holy rite.

I won’t post the link, partly because it sickens me and partly because I don’t want to give it traffic, but there is a substantial petition being circulated demanding that the EU ban animal sacrifice in all of its constituent countries. Never mind about religious freedom. Never mind that EU provisions guarantee freedom to practice one’s religion in those self-same constituent countries.

Then there was this article, about a sacrifice at Soma Yaga that has resulted in a clear desire by local politicians to eradicate the practice…nevermind protecting their indigenous traditions, never mind respecting their Gods.

Then there are the animal rights terrorist groups. (3) They’ve already had two victories this year: Denmark and Nepal. We need to come together and work together to make sure they do not have another.

This is our holiest sacrament. There is no substitution for it.

I am worried. I think there are too many people who have bought into the myth of “progress” (i.e. abandoning our traditions for some deviation of western secularism) and are hell-bent on destroying our traditions. I understand that people don’t want animals to suffer (neither do we) but a sacrifice done well is a kind and painless death, especially compared to factory farming. I also think that there is a prolonged and insidious war on polytheistic traditions. Hinduism has long known this and cries for religious equality and tolerance never seem to include leaving indigenous Hindus alone to practice their religion – the religion native to India—unimpeded. Polytheists always seem to be expected to compromise their devotion to accommodate monotheists or secularists and I think it’s time we stopped doing either.

I don’t know what the solution is. I don’t know how to roll back this tide but I do know we need to protect our traditions. So let’s talk about this, and let’s talk across traditions, and maybe let’s see what we can do in our individual locales to raise awareness, protect our farmers (an important piece in this), and secure our rite to practice.

 

Notes:

  1. ATR refers to “African Traditional Religions” like Lukumi, Ifa, Candomble, Voudoun, etc.
  2. It has its ritual analogs amongst other polytheists as well, but for the purposes of this article, I’m just going to focus on the rite of blòt and then only tangentially.
  3. And yes, this is how they’re classified, as an elder recently pointed out, by the government.

Asshattery is Afoot

My morning began with a post from a friend of mine about a family of farmers, the Benners, who are being targeted and harassed by animal rights activists because their dairy cow is eventually intended to feed their family. A housewife, mother, and incredibly ignorant woman Kimberly Sherriton attended an educational tour of the farm, asked about their cow Minnie, and grew incensed upon finding out that Minnie was eventually destined to feed the family. In Kimberly’s world, the farmers should get their meat at Whole Foods where it doesn’t have to suffer. (Yes, this intellectual heavy weight actually said this to the family). She then proceeded to start a campaign of hatred and harassment against the Benner family, one that includes death threats–nor are the Benners the only farmers to have been threatened by bullies like this. The article provides a disturbing list. I myself have seen them in action any time the subject of sacrifice comes up (though fortunately in my case the harassment was restricted to a few nasty posts and an email from David S. implying that I was evil and mentally ill) and like anti-choice activists who clearly believe that 51 percent of the world’s population do not deserve bodily sovereignty (you know, that thing called freedom), there is no reasoning with them.

I absolutely believe that animals should be treated with care and compassion. Moreover, I think that we should avoid sentimentalizing them and should instead allow them the dignity of being animals. But I respect the cycle of predator and prey and attacking a family because they’re putting food on their table in exactly the same way that our ancestors did is just foul. Moreover, these animal rights activists are little more than hate groups and they will use any tactic including lying and aggressive threats, even violence to achieve their ends.

More importantly from my perspective, every gain for these people is an attack on our religious sovereignty. Make no mistake, people like Sherriton, and they are many, have no problem whatsoever doing anything they can to make the practice of religious sacrifice illegal. They’ve succeeded too in many places. We are fortunate in the US: there is a Supreme Court Case (the 1994 case of Ernesto Pichardo and the Church of Babaluaye vs. the City of Hialeah) that ruled in our favor. Pichardo was and is a fierce fighter on behalf of his own tradition and by extension ours. He is a trail blazer and I pray the Orisha bless him daily. That this ruling exists, however, does not mean that we cannot still be threatened. (To make the parallel again, look at the constant chipping away at Roe v. Wade). This is all the more so when our polytheism might likely be met with incredulity and disdain and dismissed as “not a real religious position” by those whose imaginations are too small to encompass the idea of more than one God as licit.

I firmly believe that these animal rights activists must be challenged and driven back. Their intentions may be good, but they are ultimately ill thought out. They are working from a place of immensely blind privilege and for the most part simply don’t care about the consequences (or worse, see those consequences to our indigenous traditions – and our farmers– as positive). Before you sign that next petition or join in support of the next bit of animal rights (not animal welfare but animal rights) legislation, consider what it will be like when we’re not permitted legally to practice our religion (this happened with the festival of Gadhimai this year, and there were legal challenges even to orthodox Jews on the topic of sacrifice, and ARM, a particularly vile animal rights group is hard at work attacking Lukumi), when our farms are closing because farmers can’t feed themselves, and when eating a burger is a felony.

As my friend Ruth said, if Kimberly Sherriton cares so much more about Minnie than she does about the welfare of the Benners, let her buy the cow.

“I think a fair price for a now celebrity cow would be… let’s see… *searches for John Lennon’s last interview for the price of Yoko’s cow sale* here we go : “LENNON: Sean and I were away for a weekend and Yoko came over to sell this cow and I was joking about it. We hadn’t seen her for days; she spent all her time on it. But then I read the paper that said she sold it for a quarter of a million dollars. Only Yoko could sell a cow for that much. [Laughter]”

Not up for that, Kimberly? No? Then how about this: shut the fuck up, you ignorant piece of shit. How about that? And leave these innocent people in peace.

For those who would like to offer their support to the Benners, there is a link in the body of the aforementioned article. I have already emailed them to offer my support and to encourage them to stay strong.

Let us all stay strong and resist the encroachment of this type of thing into our practices. Let us be vigilant and on guard because we are in fact on their list. I hope that when the time comes we can all stand together to defend the most sacred of religious practices across our many traditions and to defend our farmers too. We’ve had enough stripped away.

 

 

As it should be

(warning: the clip shows a sacrifice to Frey.)

I don’t watch “The Vikings,” but a friend recently sent me this clip. Yes, there are likely technically errors with respect to the way the sacrifice is physically handled, but it’s a beautiful clip of a very holy rite. This is precisely what our rites should be: this power, this terror, this solemnity, this joy. Happy Ostara, folks. One day may this be our reality again.

The Politics of Sacrifice

It is ironic that the most vocal of the leftist/anarchist polytheists are of late so adamantly against “blood sacrifice.” They would be in very good company with that generation of Christian hegemons who attacked the heart and soul of polytheism in the 4th century, eventually successfully wiping out our traditions. You see, realizing how crucial appropriate sacrifice was to proper veneration of the Gods, the first line of attack in the ancient world, when Christian emperors (Constantine, Constantius, Constans, et al) were slowly (and not so slowly) helping to demonize our ways and legislate them out of existence was to make actual practice a capital offense. As early as 324 C.E., Constantine, according to Eusebius, issued a law forbidding ritual sacrifice in the provinces. While it appears the law was resisted and/or little followed, it is still significant that this was his first line of attack. Likewise, the Theodosian code (16.10.6 and 16.10.4) specifically forbade the practice of sacrifice and this was used as a pretext for closing and later demolishing temples, the temples being sites of power where sacrifices would traditionally have taken place.

Think about that: the most holy and sacred of our rites, the one that ties us more closely than any other practice to the Gods, the one that restores and renews the sacred contract we have with our Gods over and over again, is the first thing these people attack. In the 4th century we had Christians doing it in the name of their God, to save people from themselves, from “having the opportunity to commit error” (recorded with a smug condescension that sounds all too familiar to those of us who’ve had to deal with the radical left) and today people do it in the name of ‘progress,’ and ‘modernity.’ Oppression is oppression regardless of by what rubric you excuse your actions.

Nor is this mere theorizing. Just this year, in egregious pandering to the West, sacrifices to the Goddess Gadhimai were banned at Her festival in Nepal. And there were Pagans here who celebrated.

This past autumn, the Orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn likewise faced a challenge to their right to ritual slaughter on their highest of holy days. Fortunately, the community won this case but one can posit a trend.

Johan Galtung, often referred to as the “Father of Peace Studies,” examined in his work the nature of social, cultural, and systemic violence, including in his analysis the existence of prevailing social norms and ideas that are so deeply embedded in a culture or a community that they lead to unquestioned policing and suppression if not outright aggression of those who refuse to conform. He in part explores the intersection of religious language, culture and how they can be used to reinforce this type of harm. With our discussions lately across the blogosphere on the power of language, I think it is important, very important to keep in mind that language can be used as a powerful weapon. We can look to the period I noted above, the 4th Century C.E. to see a perfect example of this: Christians had icons, Pagans idols. Christians had religion, Pagans practiced idolatry. The same type of rhetoric is being used by our anarchist colleagues today (and yes, I mean you, Rhyd). Tradition building becomes denying people access to the Gods. Noting differing political views becomes a ‘fetishization’ of oppression. Honoring tradition and lineage –the very things that not only support and sustain indigenous religions—becomes a “glorification of violence.”(1) It is masterful and it is playing on fear, a sense of helplessness, frustration with the status quo in the United States, and perhaps lack of educational rigor in readers. As much as I am often condemned by my detractors for using language that creates ‘us versus them’ scenarios, I posit that my opposition is doing precisely the same thing only far less honestly. When restoration of our traditions as traditions is positioned as exploitation, my rhetoric radar goes up. I’ve spent the last decade reading some of the best rhetoricians in the known world as part of my academic work. I can spot such sophistry a mile away.

Part of restoring our traditions is an examination of our values and ethics, the way we look at the world, what we prioritize, and how we choose to engage not just with the Gods but with the very idea of tradition itself. We live in a massively fucked up world. We look at our polytheistic ancestors and often think that we know better than they because we have more advanced technology and have, with great conflict, made certain social advancements. That is a very false sense of security with which we soothe ourselves. Their technology was advanced for their time and place, just as ours may be considered to be (and a thousand years hence our descendants will likely look upon us as technological savages, if we’re still here in a thousand years). The issues like slavery and the position of women were issues that theologians, philosophers, and regular men and women actively debated. Christianity’s victory changed all of that, and set back what we would term civil rights by generations. We don’t know how much more advanced we would be had that lacuna not happened. What we do know is that a plethora of knowledge had to be rediscovered centuries after the world went monotheistic. There was a thing called the Dark Ages… I think that speaks volumes. We’ve been conditioned to the idea of progress and for the most part are not in any way encouraged to question it. We need to question everything fed to us as an absolute and that includes anything I may write and certainly anything my opponents in this restoration may write. One of the greatest strengths of our ancestors’ polytheistic world was the deep intellectual engagement of its people at all levels with the ideas of the day.

Their failure was one of imagination and I hope to Gods we don’t follow the same pattern. When they saw their Emperor giving rights to Christians, and then privileges, and then control they didn’t realize the ultimate repercussions of such an upset in the hierarchy of their world. Polytheism in the ancient world was vibrant and diverse and the idea of a cultus demanding utter exclusivity of practice was incomprehensible. The entire world was infused with polytheistic reverence and awareness to a degree that the absence of the same was unthinkable. When the edicts against sacrifice began, it seems, that there were difficulties implementing them – perhaps because it was incomprehensible to the local bureaucrats involved that such a fundamental thing, the fulcrum around which their traditions revolved, would ever be prohibited. The Christian slide to ultimate control occurred slowly but inexorably, and first with domination of language. But very few could see where all of that would ultimately lead, what demanding ideological obedience to “keep men from the occasion of error” would ultimately take away.

Polytheism in the ancient world was big enough, strong enough, rich and complex enough to include a multitude of philosophies and political opinions. People argued these things but came together as polytheists in the actual veneration of their Gods: in festivals, public rituals, and most of all in sacrifice. That was their common ground. We think we are better than our ancestors in so many ways, but this most essential thing escapes us. So whenever someone starts flailing away in a rhetorical attack against our most holy practices, I pay attention. (2) It signifies for me, and attack on the very heart of polytheism, on this structure, this hierarchy (Gods-ancestors-land-community), these traditions.

Rhyd and his retinue speak of hierarchy as though it isn’t a natural thing, as though it isn’t found in the Nature that they so adore. They speak of it in negatives forgetting that acknowledging the Gods as Gods in and of itself posits a hierarchy. I tend to agree with John Beckett, it’s time our communities got over their issues with authority.

 

Note:

 

 

 

  1. It’s only ever viewed as a problem however in Polytheism. One doesn’t see this crowd jumping on the ATR, or Hinduism, or other religions that practice sacrifice. Could it be that there’s an unspoken assumption there that because they are dark, they can’t possibly know any better? Hmmm? Or because so many of us are white, we are ‘more evolved?’ I do most certainly call bullshit.
  2. It is perplexing to me that there are those who can consider the holiest of offerings and rites, and see only mindless violence. I find that a very sad commentary on our world. 

Shame!

I never thought that I would be giving thanks to be practicing a Diasporic religion but the past couple of months have clearly shown that there are some perks. I know an awful lot of Heathens look to Scandinavia (including Iceland) as an inspiration to their religious practice, and as the seat of our religions’ history. That shit, to be blunt, needs to stop.

Now I’m no fan of America, Gods know. The general level of education alone (or lack thereof) is enough to make my teeth ache but at least I can do a proper blot here. That’s right. Despite occasional legal challenges to the practice, and because of the hard and dedicated work of the ATR communities in the US, I can perform proper blot, i.e. offering rites that include animal sacrifice. Apparently, that’s no longer the case in Denmark.

The latest out of that particular country (though sadly this is a secular trend that we’re seeing more and more of across Europe) is this. Animal sacrifice is now effectively banned. It is unclear how this ban would affect the slaughter of animals for religious reasons when they are not then being consumed (slaughter and then burnt offering for example) but my impression from what I have read is that this too would be against the law. Were I living in Denmark, I would have to break that law.

Animal sacrifice is an integral part of many polytheistic religions. I have written about this extensively here and here and here before. The UK article notes that Muslim and Jewish communities are up in arms about the new law, but it’s also one that affects polytheists too, and ATR communities: one more chipping away at our right to practice our religion unimpeded…as if Christianity didn’t do enough of that a thousand plus years ago.

The centrality of sacrifice, for instance, to Jewish as well as Polytheist communities was recognized by the Emperor Julian who sought to rebuild this people’s ancestral temple so that they could once again offer sacrifice in the proper, traditional manner, as we read in the Ecclesiastical History of Salamanius Hermias Sozomenus:

“Events proved that this was his real motive; for he sent for some of the chiefs of the race and exhorted them to return to the observance of the laws of Moses and the customs of their fathers. On their replying that because the Temple in Jerusalem was overturned, it was neither lawful nor ancestral to do this in another place than the metropolis out of which they had been cast, he gave them public money, commanded them to rebuild the Temple, and to practice the cult similar to that of their ancestors, by sacrificing after the ancient way. The emperor, the other pagans, and all the Jews, regarded every other undertaking as secondary in importance to this. Although the pagans were not well-disposed towards the Jews, yet they assisted them in this enterprise, because they reckoned upon its ultimate success, and hoped by this means to falsify the prophecies of Christ.”

Further, we have Julian’s own words in his letter to the Jewish community:

“In times past, by far the most burdensome thing in the yoke of your slavery has been the fact that you were subjected to unauthorized ordinances and had to contribute an untold amount of money to the accounts of the treasury. Of this I used to see many instances with my own eyes, and I have learned of more, by finding the records which are preserved against you. Moreover, when a tax was about to be levied on you again I prevented it, and compelled the impiety of such obloquy to cease here; and I threw into the fire the records against you that were stored in my desks; so that it is no longer possible for anyone to aim at you such a reproach of impiety. My brother [cousin] Constantius of honored memory [in whose reign, 337-361, severe laws were enacted against the Jews] was not so much responsible for these wrongs of yours as were the men who used to frequent his table, barbarians in mind, godless in soul. These I seized with my own hands and put them to death by thrusting them into the pit, that not even any memory of their destruction might still linger amongst us.

And since I wish that you should prosper yet more, I have admonished my brother Iulus [Hillel II, d. 365], your most venerable patriarch, that the levy which is said to exist among you [the taxes paid by world Jewry for support of the Palestinian patriarchate] should be prohibited, and that no one is any longer to have the power to oppress the masses of your people by such exactions; so that everywhere, during my reign, you may have security of mind, and in the enjoyment of peace may offer more fervid prayers for my reign to the Most High God, the Creator, who has deigned to crown me with his own immaculate right hand. For it is natural that men who are distracted by any anxiety should be hampered in spirit, and should not have so much confidence in raising their hands to pray; but that those who are in all respects free from care should rejoice with their whole hearts and offer their suppliant prayers on behalf of my imperial office to Mighty God, even to Him who is able to direct my reign to the noblest ends, according to my purpose.

This you ought to do, in order that, when I have successfully concluded the war with Persia, I may rebuild by my own efforts the sacred city of Jerusalem, which for so many years you have longed to see inhabited, and may bring settlers there, and, together with you, may glorify the Most High God therein.”

We should stand in solidarity with all of the Jews, Muslims, ATRs and Polytheists whose free expression of their religion is being impinged by these overreaching and unjust laws. This is oppression and this is precisely why some polytheists are so adamant that polytheism is, among other things, a human rights movement.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Repost from last October: The Red Thread – Res Ipsa Loquitur

This past week of discussion on the topic of sacrifice — often quite heated discussion–has been incredibly vexing. It’s highlighted for me yet again what a tremendous learning curve there is as we move forward in the restoration of our traditions. Yet again I find myself struggling to hold onto the grim hope that we will, in time, succeed. In a way, it is a gift and a grace when fractures in a working group, a community, a House are highlighted in so clear and undeniable a fashion. To move forward cleanly, after all, one must have a clear and accurate lay of the land. We must know what it is with which we work. Sometimes though, it’s a very ugly process.

Animal sacrifice is not a hip new practice. It’s a tremendously old one. It is one of the oldest and holiest of rites practiced in pretty much every ancestral polytheism across the world (and the three monotheisms, for that matter. It’s a universal practice. Show me an intact polytheism, in a traditional culture, that doesn’t sacrifice to the Powers). Those tapped as sacrificial priests are picking up the threads of a very ancient sacramental contract between humanity, the natural world, and the Powers. There is rigorous training. There is respect. There is devotion. To think that we can restore our traditions with integrity, while neglecting this most fundamental of practices is…naive, to say the least. It’s easier, I suspect, for those of us coming either from a background in working with animals and animal care, or from farm-folk to position these practices as sacred but for those deeply ensconced in modern, post-Reformation, “Enlightenment” values, there can be a powerful learning curve. It really highlights that while we may navigate between our contemporary secular (but really protestant christian) informed society to our ancestral ways, in the end, one must make a choice. The two mindsets are diametrically opposed. It always comes as a bit of a shock to those of us entrenched in our ancestral ways to realize just how deeply so.

That is what I intend to discuss in this post. Those of us in the forefront of this work bear a very heavy burden: the weight of traditions upon our shoulders. It is not enough to rest in the panacea of only those practices that do not challenge our comfort levels. It is not enough to pick and choose only those things that do not force us to call into question the very foundations upon which our modern values rest. We are charged with going deeper. To say that the weight of a tradition rests upon us means that we have a greater, far greater obligation not just to the Gods and ancestors but to the tradition itself, to the very lineage that we are seeking to restore. We must be clean. This week I watched someone I love, step back and release a nascent tradition, withdraw as carrier of the mysteries of Dionysos from a group that he had founded to be the carrier of this received tradition. He will take the Mysteries that he carries and move forward, having cut ties with that group. I’ve seen people questioning why it is that it was necessary to so thoroughly break and move on and the answer is simple: contamination.The original group became so impure, so contaminated by something that goes deeper than miasma, something akin to spiritually corrosive poison that there was no clean choice but to sever ties. Why? Because you do not build a tradition on filth.

There are things that can be discussed, dissented with, argued vehemently, and there is a way to argue vehemently but some things are immutable within their traditions. Sacrifice is one of those things. When one is part of a community, those sacrifices done benefit that entire community, down to the least involved member. It is a reverent portal through which a thousand blessings flow. It is the metaphorical water that nourishes seeds planted in the rich soil of devotion. Through right relationship, reverence, devotional practices, ecstatic ritual, sacrifice and a dozen other ways, threads that were savaged so long ago with the spread of monotheism are woven anew. They are fragile at first, and require care. They must be cultivated, tended, kept free of harm. Instead, we have seen them set upon from within and it is not the first time that I have seen this.

To have people encounter the idea of sacrifice for the first time react with confusion, or with a deeply emotional response, or to question whether or not they can participate, or to want to understand more before making a decision is normal and even a respectful process. We should seek to understand those sacred things that we are given the opportunity to touch. It is a way of deepening our own understanding not just of our traditions and Gods, but of our own spiritual processes too. If someone, for whatever reason, chooses to walk away because of a practice like sacrifice, that is their choice and it does not harm the tradition. If someone chooses to reject sacrifice, maliciously attempt to play upon readers’ unexamined sentiments by bringing up non sequiturs like human sacrifice, slavery, etc., equating these things with animal sacrifice, that is an attempt at violence being done to a tradition. If someone by utter lack of hospitality condemns and attacks the authority of the one who received the Mysteries of a tradition, all the while claiming a desire to stay and *reap the benefits of his knowledge, and of community sacrifices*, that is obscene. It is reprehensible. More to the point, it brings impurity into the line.

There are a thousand chasms to be navigated here. When, for instance, do you sever and withdraw, and when do you bear on, dragging the tradition through to cleaner waters? When does the latter become an impossibility? When do you risk contaminating yourself and all the Mysteries that you have been given to hold, to nurture, to transmit? There are obligations here: to the Gods, to the ancestors, but to those Mysteries themselves, and to future mystai. Each tradition is a gloriously woven tapestry but keep picking at the threads, pulling out certain ones that you don’t like and eventually that tapestry is reduced to nothing. It loses its integrity, physically and metaphorically. The boundaries of a tradition are an immutable line for just this reason.

I believe very strongly that both the Gods and our ancestors watch carefully as this process of restoration grows. I believe that there is a tremendous investment in our progress. I believe we are accountable, those of us so tasked, for what we do and what we neglect to do in the process of this work. I think we are answerable for our choices. But I also think that the Gods and ancestors grieve deeply when we fail. In fact, I know it. I know it because I have been carrying just that grief all week.

I serve the ancestors almost as much as I serve the Gods. Part of my work as a tradition bearer and sometimes as a diviner means that I key very strongly in to the grief that pours like a wailing river from both the dead and the Powers. All this week, since it became clear how deep the vein of dogged ignorance runs and how quickly it spiraled to begin contaminating a tradition, I have found myself carrying, hauling around a growing and heavy grief; and as I watched, I was surprised as I am always surprised by how fiercely people cling to their surety that our ancestors were idiots and their sense of entitlement and privileged belief in their own enlightenment. I’ve been Heathen since 1995 and a sacrificial priest for almost as long. This is not the first time I’ve seen this play out. Each time I sense the same grief and each time I respond to those bringing poison into the Gods’ House with anger and vitriol –admittedly in part my response to the gravity of the grief I am given to bear, grief that is not all mine, but that of the ancestors’ and Gods as well. Incidents like this highlight with ferocious clarity what tangled and difficult work lies before us all. Two steps forward, one step back eternally.

I am bowed over with the grief of the dead, ancestors who saw their traditions torn away, snatched and sundered, destroyed, spat on, and rewritten by the victors as savage fictions. I am bowed over with the grief of ancestors who, each time we lay down threads, hope anew for full, viable, sustainable restoration, only to be, yet again, disappointed, yet again reminded of the ignominy and horror to which their traditions fell. I am filled with a cold, grating fury toward those who willfully refuse to examine the price of their own allegiance to “progress”. It’s because of people just like you that our traditions fell in the first place. It’s because of people just like you that we have to do this restorative work now and there is a screaming fury in my soul that could I but find a way to unleash its wrath would reduce your world to fiery cinders. But such would not serve and so I make offerings to the dead, I make offerings to the Gods, and I pray as fervently as I possibly can to instead turn that raging anger into momentum for renewed inspiration and work.

It is not enough to have separated ourselves from the contamination. Now we must grieve, giving voice to our ancestors, allowing their anguish multiplied down the generations to pour through us into sacred ritual. Now we must pay greater homage to our Gods, divining for and preparing the sacrifices that will cleanse that which is worse by a thousand times than miasma from us and that which we hold. I think on the words of the great Sufi poet Rumi:

“Blood must flow…
for the garden to flower
and the heart that loves me
is a wound without shield.”

and I am filled again with a gratitude so humbling that it drives me to my knees to be given into service. It is a joy even in the face of such despair and I turn my mind to devotion, away from the fury and the fire. I turn my soul to the glorious free-fall of leaping again into the canyon abyss of ecstasy that is adoration of the Gods.